U.S. 'ready to talk' with N. Korea
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- The United States is ready to talk to North Korea and willing to discuss possible ways of resolving the country's energy crisis once it ends nuclear weapons development, a senior U.S. envoy says.
Speaking in Seoul Monday Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said that once the issue of nuclear weapons was resolved "there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area."
"We are of course willing to talk," he said.
The comments, which appear to be a small carrot offered as a potential way of easing the current tensions, came after Kelly held talks with South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun.
The U.S. envoy is in South Korea for two days of discussions aimed at coordinating efforts to resolve the crisis over neighboring North Korea's nuclear program.
The visit is Kelly's first to the region since last October when, he says, North Korean officials admitted to him that they had an ongoing secret program to produce enriched uranium, suitable for use in nuclear weapons.
North Korea has denied making any such admission and accuses Washington of distorting its comments on what it says is a peaceful nuclear program.
Kelly's visit comes as a former diplomat under the Clinton administration, who has been holding talks with North Korean officials, urged the Bush administration to "pick up the phone" and begin talks with the North to defuse tensions.
Bill Richardson, now Governor of the state of New Mexico, says two North Korean envoys told him that their country does not plan to produce nuclear weapons and are ready to talk.
Speaking on ABC's This Week on Sunday, he said that President Bush's labeling of North Korea part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iran and Iraq was not helpful.
"It doesn't make sense to provoke them," he said, noting that the North was used to taking an aggressive line in negotiation.
"The North Koreans, they don't negotiate like we do. They don't have our same mentality," he said.
"They believe that in order to get something, they have to lay out additional cards -- step up the rhetoric, be more belligerent."
Richardson said it was time for the Bush administration to "just pick up the phone, start the preliminary talks at the U.N. in New York at a low level to set up broader talks."
However, commenting on Richardson's weekend talks, Kelly told reporters he did not feel any progress had been made toward resolving the impasse.
Pyongyang has never publicly stated that it has an active nuclear weapons program and has said on several occasions that it has no plans to produce nuclear devices.
"The claim that we admitted developing nuclear weapons is an invention fabricated by the U.S. with sinister intentions," South Korea's Yonhap new agency quoted the North's state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper as saying.
In recent days, however, it has announced its withdrawal from the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty and warned that it may drop its self-imposed moratorium on ballistic missile tests -- both of which, the North says, are self-defense measures forced on it by the "hostile" policy of the United States.
Some U.S. defense analysts say North Korea could roll out a missile capable of hitting the continental United States before 2015, although Pyongyang insists its rocketry program is purely for peaceful space research purposes.
At the same time its official media has kept up a steady stream of militaristic rhetoric, threatening most recently to unleash "a sea of fire" if the crisis should develop into a military confrontation.
The Bush administration has said it has no plans to invade North Korea or launch military action, but says as well that it will not be blackmailed into negotiations or making concessions to the North.
According to a senior Washington source, two scenarios are under discussion within the Bush administration for resolving the issue.
• Scenario number one involves Washington actively helping to bring about the collapse of the North Korea regime under Kim Jong Il collapse.
• And scenario number two involves devising a new deal to appease North Korea and wait for South Korean capitalism to spread northward.
Secretary of State Colin Powell favors the second scenario, the source said, but as yet there is no consensus within the administration or key regional allies about what any new deal should include.
The North Koreans themselves have said "everything is open" to discussion, the source added.